The Story of a Christian/Muslim Friendship

Marilyn R. Gardner is an adult third culture kid who grew up in Pakistan and then lived as an adult in Pakistan and Egypt. She birthed 5 kids on 3 continents and went on to raise them in Pakistan and Egypt before moving to the United States. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, just 15 minutes from the international terminal where she flies to the Middle East & Pakistan as often as possible. She is the author of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture & Belonging, and her newest memoir, Passages Through Pakistan: An American Girl’s Journey of Faith (click on the titles to check out the books at Amazon). Because of her passion for the Middle East, 50% of all royalties for any purchase of Passages goes towards refugee work there. She is also a prolific blogger at Communicating Across Boundaries (click on the blog title to check out Marilyn’s blog).

You can read more about how Kerry knows Marilyn and why he is celebrating her during International Women’s Month by reading yesterday’s post by clicking on “Loving the ‘Other.’

marilyn

Every September, when cool breezes off the Nile River replaced the sweltering heat of summer, the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt would reunite. Most employers planned a variety of activities to introduce any newcomers to Egypt in general, and the gigantic city of Cairo in particular.

Our employer, the American University of Cairo, put together an orientation week full of events and talks all designed to ease these overwhelmed rookies into life in both the city and the university. It was during orientation week that I met Lubna for the first time.

On the first day, I noticed Lubna standing alone at the break. I ignored my conscience and left her alone. On the second day, the internal nudge was too strong to ignore. I felt compelled to go and speak with her. I was nervous. Lubna was fully veiled. She wore both the abbaya (long black coat) and a niqab, the veil that covered all but her eyes. While I was used to communicating with women in the hijab (head covering), I had no friends who wore the full veil and I felt my discomfort acutely. I stumbled a bit as I asked her how long she had been in Cairo.

After seconds, we were engrossed in a dynamic conversation and within minutes found significant commonalities. Raised in Canada by an Egyptian family, she had married a Tunisian man who had immigrated to Canada just a few years before. She had one child, a baby girl.

A couple of weeks later, Lubna invited me to her home. Until this time, I had only seen her at outside events and I looked forward to being able to sit with her over tea and get to know her better. I arrived at her apartment around 10 minutes late – a little early for a Middle Eastern visit. I knocked on the door and a beautiful woman with long, dark hair that curled around her face answered the door. With exquisite make up and a chic outfit, she was lovely. I stared at her and in a halting voice explained that I was there to visit with Lubna. Was she available? The woman burst into laughter. “It’s me, Marilyn!” She laughed. “I can’t believe you didn’t recognize me!”

I had already seen Lubna numerous times, fully veiled with only her eyes showing. I was stunned at the contrast. As we laughed, she vowed she would never let me forget this first reaction.

Lubna and her husband were conservative Muslims. The niqab was the visual evidence of this, but this was really only one piece of the whole. Islam was a way of life, not just a religion of words. Lubna and her husband ordered their lives according to Islam, from the Call of Prayer (azzan) at the first light of dawn to the last echo heard across the city before bed, this was who they were.

Our commonalities were significant, our interactions over everything from faith to family were rich and interesting. But as our friendship developed, a curious side effect emerged. I experienced a crisis of faith. I had always imagined my faith to be far deeper and stronger than those who did not adhere to my truth claims. While I could acknowledge the faith of another, in my mind their faith was not as strong, not as binding.

As I grew to know and love Lubna, I entered into a new understanding of faith. Her faith was zealous and sure, providing her with a cement foundation not easily moved. I struggled as I watched her. How could her faith be just as strong as mine? As a Christian didn’t I have a market on faith?

It was through Lubna that I learned I didn’t and I don’t have a market on faith. It was through Lubna I learned that I could hold fast to my truth claims, yet still develop a deep friendship with another – not compromising, not betraying what I believe, but connecting within relationship. The orthodoxy of our faith defined our truth claims and the goal was not that we would agree – the goal was that we would communicate, that we would become friends without strings attached.

It’s been many years since Lubna and I shared tea and life together, but many others like her have come into my life; others who have taught me valuable lessons on connecting and offering friendship without compromising on truth claims. With each of them I have remembered what Lubna taught me about listening and loving, learning and enjoying. And I remember that this isn’t about forcing a faith, it’s about forging a friendship.

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

 

 

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Loving The “Other”

Ernst_Barlach_Barmherziger_Samariter
“Good Samaritan” by Ernst Barlach
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Click here to read the rest of the parable.

 

Growing up I thought “scandal” and “Scandinavian” came from the same root word because of the scandal it was when a Scandinavian entered our predominately German American culture.

Ok, that isn’t exactly true, but what is true is that my parents spoke exclusively German as young children and didn’t learn English until starting school even though they were both second or third generation American citizens.  In addition, everyone in my church, my school, and among my friend group all looked pretty much the same.  Because when you grow up in south-central North Dakota, everybody looks pretty much the same.

The “other” — except for the occasional stray Scandinavian — was a distant concept for me, and because of this I didn’t have to think about my personal response to those who had a different skin color, or had a different religion, or spoke a different language.  I was ignorant to the struggles and difficulties as well as the hopes and joys of those who were different from me.

And though my circumstances changed after I left the farm for college and there was greater diversity around me, I never gave much thought to my changing surroundings.

Without my knowing, I turned in my ignorance for apathy.

I fear that this progression, at least for me, would have been from ignorance to apathy and then onto animosity.  It seems to me that this progression gets played out too often throughout human history.  I was fortunate, however, in that this progression was halted (or at least put in check on my best days) because of the influence of people who challenged me through their words and their lives.

There are a number of people who come to mind when I think about those who have helped me consider the “other.”  There is one in particular to whom I want to say “thank you” as I thank the women who have influenced me in this series.

Marilyn Gardner, along with her husband Cliff, led a college ministry along with my wife, myself, and a few other people while I was attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the late 90s.  Marilyn was and continues to be a passionate and compassionate person.  Evident in her life was a deep love for international students and the “other” whoever they were or from wherever they came.  As I had the privilege of ministering alongside of her to college students, she ministered to me — not just her words to me or her hospitality to our entire family — she ministered to me as I learned from her strength and compassion.  Her Christianity and love — at least in my eyes — was not hindered by the ignorance or apathy that I had towards the “other.”  In my eyes, she balanced a family (she had five lovely young children at the time — they are all grown now) and work outside of the home all the while demonstrating God’s love for the “other” without appearing frantic.  I am sure there were frantic moments — with five children I can imagine there were more than Marilyn would care to admit.  The point, however, is that to those of us to whom she ministered, she didn’t seem frantic or too busy.  She never “crossed to the other side of the road” or “hurried along her way” but rather stooped down to the one in need, bound up their “wounds,” and cared for the “other.”

She is one of those people that years later — after you have moved far away — you think to yourself, “Self, you should have been more intentional about learning from that person!”

Fortunately, at least in the case of Marilyn, that wish has been granted.  I continue to learn from her through her blog, Communicating Across Boundaries (click on the title to read her blog).  And I am looking forward to reading her most recently published book Passages through Pakistan (click on the title to read an excerpt).

She continues to minister to me; she continues to challenge my apathy towards the “other.”  Most importantly ,she reminds me in her writings  that I am the “other” more often than I think.

“Other” can often be seen as pejorative.  Every time I wrote it in this post, I cringed a bit — I hope you cringed a bit reading it.  But God sent Christ for the “other.”  Christ died for the “other.”  And God commands us to care for the “other.”

Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook a quote that anyone who doesn’t learn English should be sent back to their country of origin — I think learning English is a good thing, something we should with compassion help others to do.  I did not get the sense, however, that this was the tone of the post.

This post reminded me once again that my parents were the “other” in this country.  My friend’s post would suggest that my family should have been sent back to the persecution from which they fled Russia (my heritage is Germans from Russia an interesting history and a blog post for another day).

I am thankful that my family was able to stay in a country where they were once the “other.”  More importantly I am thankful that Christ came for me, the “other.”  And I am thankful to the many marvelous people, especially Marilyn, who remind me of my call to love, care, and minister to the “other.”

Tomorrow’s post will be written by Marilyn Gardner!  Thanks, Marilyn.

March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”